The moonlight shining on the river Thames at the estuary mouth, illuminating a three masted sailing ship and the coastline beyond.
Similar ship to WA08 which sank in the Thames Estuary, Essex in the mid-to-late 19th century. The moonlight shining on the river Thames at the estuary mouth, illuminating a three masted sailing ship and the coastline beyond. Date: 1888 © Historic England Archive
Similar ship to WA08 which sank in the Thames Estuary, Essex in the mid-to-late 19th century. The moonlight shining on the river Thames at the estuary mouth, illuminating a three masted sailing ship and the coastline beyond. Date: 1888 © Historic England Archive

Protection Granted to Mystery 19th-Century Merchant Shipwreck Discovered in the Thames Estuary in Essex

A mystery well-preserved shipwreck which was involved in day-to-day merchant trading in slate and coal by river and sea in England in the mid- to late-19th century has been granted protection by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England. The precise identity of the wreck is not yet known.

The wooden cargo vessel, known as WA08, in the Thames Estuary in Essex, has been protected by scheduling which means recreational divers can dive it but its contents are protected by law and must remain in situ.

WA08 – West Barrow Sandbank, Thames Estuary, Essex

This well-preserved wreck of a mid- to late-19th century wooden cargo ship (38 metres long and 9 metres wide) was discovered in 2016 during a routine survey by the Port of London Authority. It probably had three masts and was carrying a large cargo of Cornish roofing slates when it sank, possibly through running aground on the West Barrow Sands. Although part of the hull and deck are missing, the wreck is in a remarkable condition, with features such as parts of masts, the rudder and the bowsprit – the long spar which extends from the vessel’s bow – surviving.

While this type of ship was once common around the coast of England, very few survive today. The closest known casualty in time, date, cargo and location is the three-masted Welsh schooner Myvanwy, which ran aground on West Barrow Sand on 21 May 1904. It was carrying slate from Antwerp in Belgium to Woolwich in London.

This wreck is at risk of decay due to shifting sands. More detailed analysis has the potential to enhance our understanding of the Cornish slate trade across north-west Europe at a time when the slate industry was dominated by slate from North Wales and Welsh ports became hubs for international trade.

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